My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Being a huge fan of Saskia Walker’s erotic historical romances, I’ve been keeping track of her latest releases of late. The Burlington Manor Affair sounded... well, historical, so I went ahead and requested for the ARC. It wasn’t until I started reading that I discovered it’s not a historical romance but contemporary. Also, I became aware of the fact that the story wasn’t going well for me. Why? Let’s if I can elaborate in my review.
When the story starts off, we’re introduced to a scene in the Burlington Manor I’m not sure I was happy about. It’s sort of a flashback, of years earlier, of our heroine, a teenage Carmen accidentally spying her best friend Amanda and her step-brother, Rex in bed together, going at it like the bunnies. A scene that breaks her heart as much as it arouses her. You see, though Rex is technically her step-brother, he has not really been a brotherly figure. Carmen has harbored a huge crush on him ever since her mother, Sylvia married Rex’s father some years prior and they started living in here. Though Rex is couple of years older, both he and Carmen were already in their teens when the marriage took place. Carmen, the reserved sort, never could tell the sexy and handsome Rex about her real feelings or infatuation, however you see it. They fooled around a bit, hiding behind their parents back but it never went anywhere... until she finds him in bed with Amanda, who actually knew of her feelings. Who needs enemies when you have friends like that, right? Even though she still wanted Rex, after this incident, Carmen promises to herself that she’d never fall for or think of Rex and give him the chance hurt her again.
At present time, about 10 or so years later, Carmen is taking care of her now deceased mother’s business. Recently, Rex’s father also passed away. She hadn’t seen Rex for a long time too. He’s rich, a successful entrepreneur, his specialty being manufacturing racing cars. He’s also, as the rumor goes, a womanizer. Beautiful women, models and socialites are seen in his arms quite frequently. Carmen always knew this is how it’ll be. Rex is still as tall and handsome as he was, if not more so and sexy to boots. Her assumptions about him are proven correct when she sees him at his father’s funeral. Even now Carmen can’t resist him, just one look at him makes her knees go weak. It wasn’t until the will is read, where she was specifically advised to be present, are things go crazy. It seems like Rex’s father has divided the ownership of the Burlington Manor, a house where she had lived and experienced so much until her mother’s death in an accident, between her and Rex. Carmen didn’t expect to inherit anything, so she’s as surprised as she’s exhilarated to be a part of the house again.
Carmen assumes Rex doesn’t care about the manor much. He’d had a difficult time there with his father there. At one point, their relationship deteriorated so much that he left and didn’t return. Carmen though, loves this house very much and wants it to be hers, if she can manage it. She wants to buy out Rex’s portion and renovate it to her liking. But the trouble is, for that, she needs to negotiate with the one person she wants to avoid at all cost. Rex himself, who it seems do not care to give away his portion that easily. After the reading of the will, the deviltry in his eyes told Carmen she has her work cut out where he’s concerned.
True to her thoughts, Rex puts forth a proposal. He doesn’t want money. He doesn’t want any other kind of deal that Carmen is trying to talk him into. All he wants is, her, in his bed, for a month. Each weekend, spend in the manor in question, together. No holds barred and no-strings-attached. Take it or leave it.
For Carmen, the choice is set. Though she tries to talk her brain into denying this, Rex’s touches immediately makes turns it into mush. Her body doesn’t even listen to her whenever he’s near. So it was no surprise that she finds herself leaving for the manor the next weekend. She continues to try to convince herself that she’s going to talk Rex out of it, that she’s now grown up and a businesswoman, that she can ignore his advances etc. etc... but nothing of the sort happens. When the time comes, she jumps right into bed with him.
Hmmm. I was not happy. Nope.
First of all, Rex came off as one of those rich and spoiled womanizer heroes. His every intention was to get Carmen into bed, as if she’s a challenge he wanted to concur and this was the perfect opportunity. Like a sort of blackmail. He confesses almost as much, that he had always wanted her (... and you jumped into bed with her best friend when the opportunity arrived? Right!). Not my thing. And Carmen, OMG, did she even have a personality? Or will power? After what she witnessed, doesn’t matter some years ago if it’s still that fresh on her mind, I would’ve thought she’d run as far away as possible from Rex cause heartbreak and big NO-NO are written all over him. But she doesn’t do a thing. For me, such a pushover h does not add much to the story. So together, I found skipping the first 150 or so pages because they were just full of sex or Carmen telling herself she can keep the no-strings-attached thing going but we all knew she couldn’t. Rex keeps manipulating her the way he saw fit, she just could not say ‘not’ to his advances. It was annoying! Moreover, out of nowhere, we’re told that Rex brings out the submissiveness in her. Um, huh? She has never been in BDSM, yet suddenly she’s crawling on the floor for Rex?
TBH, there was nothing appealing for me in those sex scenes. At some point I found myself debating if I should stop reading or not. I even stopped reading for a while to give myself some times.
When I returned, after a few more pages of slogging through it, finally things started to shift around. It was when Rex’s POVs were beginning to get clearer and more concise (without lust hazing every thought and intentions). Also, I begin seeing some, albeit late, will power from Carmen’s part. Yah, she was still having sex with him but she was also thinking of the consequences. It was pretty obvious that she never got over him. And now that she’s tasted the ‘forbidden’, something she craved almost all her life, she knows she can’t let it go.
I wanted Carmen to confront Rex about that night in particular, where she saw him with Amanda. It would’ve ruined the book completely if she decided to forget it all just because he’s ‘oh-so-good’ in bed. At that point, Rex was finally beginning feel more comfortable, starting to show his affections for Carmen. He decides to throw a party by inviting some of their old friends. Amanda was one of them. The b!tch does some stuff to put Carmen off, not wasting a minute to be all over Rex, who didn’t want any of it to begin with. It hurts Carmen and she leaves the party early. When Rex finds her, she confesses about what she saw. A little anti-climactic for me cause, though Rex is shocked and feeling really guilty, he confesses that he doesn’t remember much about that encounter. That was a one-time thing, a bad judgment on his part. It was right after he had this argument with his father about his growing attraction of Carmen, something that obviously left him restless. The old man didn’t want him involved, forcing him to treat her as a younger sister, which was never going to happen. And since Carmen was out of reach... it just happened.
This confession comes as a shock for Carmen too, who had no idea how bad things have gotten between the father and the son, and probably, it was for her. Her old yearnings return full force when Rex confesses that it’s her he always wanted. I couldn’t blame her as I was also beginning to see things differently. In all these give and take, what Rex doesn’t come clean about is, now that the opportunity has landed on his lap, quite literally, he’s going to do anything to keep Carmen. It becomes clearer with each page and sexual encounters just how desperate Rex is to keep her, so that she accepts him the way he wants her. But it wasn’t going to be easy as Carmen, quite a few times, pushes him away whenever he tried talking about something more serious. I couldn’t entirely blame her. Rex’s track record has not been good. Then again, it came down to the fact, again, that it was her he wanted and not those women.
His assurances, at first, doesn’t allay Carmen’s vulnerabilities. She thinks she’s not supposed to be all alone cause all her loved ones have left, one way or the other. Her few past encounters haven’t been successful due to her eternal obsession with Rex. The one person she could never forget, and never have. And now that he’s telling her something of that proportion, what’s she supposed to do? Can she accept it, and him?
It was also true that she can’t stay away from him, just as Rex himself. So they kept meeting at the manor. Carmen’s plan of keeping things ‘just there’ fails as Rex is determined to meet her outside of that set boundary, as a normal couple would. His skillful maneuvering had her doing exactly what he’s been asking for even before Carmen could utter a ‘no’. The talks about their initial deal of buying out are still a part of their conversation, though, gradually, that ceases to become the center. She even, at one point, goes to Rex’s apartment to spend time with him. Also would like to mention that sex scenes were much hotter for me now that I could feel the connection between them.
As the story progressed, some of Rex’s father’s ugly deeds begin to come into the view. With that, some sudden and unwanted mishaps started happing too. Rex knew one of the big reasons why his parents broke up was his father cheating on his mother. He had a mistress on the side and regularly visited her. It ended right before he married Carmen’s mother. Rex had always been adamant about never cheating on his girlfriends, no matter how short that relationship was. But when Carmen had a minor accident at the manor and sprained her ankle, then he too survived what he can only term as a murder attempt at the railway station, Rex decides it’s time to pay the woman a call. He had a sickening suspicion that all this sudden ‘accident’s had something to do with his father’s recent passing and the will he left. If only he knew the mess that was waiting for him!
The ex-mistress turns out to be the proverbial evaiiil one. With his visit, not only Rex found hating the woman even more but also, some of his suspicions seemed quite solidly grounded, such as: the recent ‘accident’s and Carmen’s mother’s untimely death. What Rex could surmise is that this woman is desperate enough to do certain things for her own gain. He hires investigators to make discrete inquiries too. Because he didn’t want Carmen to worry over any of it, Rex keeps it all a secret from her.
Then things began to unravel. The mistress certainly wasn’t happy with the will and she strikes with a vengeance. She plans murder to be committed at the manor. Though no one is badly or fatally injured, some more unexpected (and unwanted) truths surface about his father’s rather slimy past. One he already knew, the cheating. Now it seems Rex has two younger half-brothers (with the mistress), whom his father completely overlooked while creating the will, as if they didn’t exist. He actually treated them as such. One of them was employed at the manor without anyone knowing his true identity. This guy, Jason, turns out to be the less guilty of the three; a mere pawn for his mother and elder brother’s plans.
I would’ve been rather disappointed in Rex if he kept treating Jason, who I felt was genuinely innocent of anything, the same hateful way he did to the other two. I don’t blame him for it, yet I was also thinking that his father was to blame for it all. When all three of them were arrested, Rex tries his best not to feel for Jason at all. Jason also doesn’t want the pity but only his genuine regret over whatever happened. I was happy to see, later on, Rex helping him start over when the story ended. Additionally, I remember this letter of his father that was found and given to Rex by an employee. The reading of it was an emotional scene, as Rex was already much deep with Carmen at that time. I guess he needed the closure but I never felt anything positive for his father. The guy was a complete a$$ IMO.
Carmen, this time, learned everything that Rex has been hiding from her. He didn’t want his father’s past to ruin things for them, hence she wasn’t privy of his thoughts or actions. Though she’s sympathetic, she also doesn’t think Jason needs to be treated so harshly. Carmen also becomes angry with Rex when she learns of his plans about the manor. She takes umbrage that Rex would do or plan anything without consulting her when she’s the half-owner of the manor itself. Well, possibly she had had the right to be annoyed, thinking Rex is way too used to getting his way but she had a really childish way of showing it.
Also, not sure why, she suddenly decides to leave Rex and break off this no-strings thing when they had, as I felt, gotten much closer. To me, they felt more like a real couple then they ever were. It was not all about sex anymore but other, more solid things, were involved where their relationship was concerned. There was no doubt that Rex wanted this for more than a handful of weeks and hinted at a long-term relationship. So Carmen’s decision was rather rushed, too sudden, came when I was least expecting it. I thought, the way she was, she’d be happy to hear Rex out and give him a chance. Not that she could stay away for long, so I don’t know what was the point of that short break-up. Moreover, she didn’t seem all that upset seeing his one of ex’s sniffing around him, trying to get together again. So I can only surmise that she wasn’t confident enough to take up on a man like Rex, that’s all.
Rex does his best to take care of this mess about his father’s ex-mistress and her son, but there was one thing he wanted to do; to find the truth of Carmen’s mother’s death. He was already suspicious, now he needed the proof. He wanted to do this for her and give her some piece of mind. To show her that she’s not alone in this world anymore, so she can learn to rely on him just a little bit. Maybe then, Carmen will come to see that he cares that much. Rex had some future plans for the manor too, now that he has no intentions of getting rid of his share but be a part of it, possibly with her by his side and working on this new plan together. Only he has to convince her of his intentions...
When all was said and done and the troubles solved, I have to say that I liked the way it ended. Ms. Walker made me believe in Rex’s feelings for Carmen when I didn’t in the beginning. I never doubted Carmen’s feelings (she was stuck for good where Rex was concerned LOL) but I wish she wasn’t a pushover at times. There definitely could’ve been less drama in their relationship but glad nonetheless that it proved to be a much better, engaging read at the end. 3.75 stars.
This ARC was provided to me by Harlequin/HQN via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.